Best Jewish Day School
Jewish day schools everywhere have been producing mensches for decades. Which ones get the most accolades? J. readers chose Brandeis Hillel in San Francisco, Tehiyah Day School for the East Bay, and the Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School for the South Bay/Peninsula.
Lifelong Jewish learning is a focus at Brandeis Hillel. “[By] making all feel accepted without being judged, we are creating the Jewish community that lives long after children graduate from our school,” Head of School Chaim Heller says.
For 27 years, Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito has been offering an education across the spectrum of Jewish experience. Head of School Steve Tabak believes that “producing good human beings is above everything else.”
Mervyn Danker, head of the Wornick School in Foster City, notes that his school offers an awareness of Jewish identity in a diverse environment. “Families come from many backgrounds that enrich the culture of the school,” he says.
Oakland Hebrew Day School came in second in the East Bay. Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School took second for the South Bay/Peninsula.
Brandeis Hillel Day School
Tehiyah Day School
Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School
Oakland Hebrew Day School
Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School
Best Early Childhood Program
While finger-painting their way to Jewish identity, children can learn more than just their ABCs at Jewish pre-schools. Temple Emanu-El Preschool took first place as the best preschool in San Francisco, Gav Avraham at Temple Beth Abraham won in the East Bay, Temple Beth Jacob Preschool was tops in the South Bay/Peninsula, and the Osher Marin JCC Preschool came in first in Marin.
Entering its 20th year, Emanu-El’s preschool hopes to instill a sense of respect and kindness in their kids. “Our most important goal is to help children learn that acting kindly toward each other … is of primary importance,” says David Worton, director of early childhood education.
One of the assets of Gan Avraham is the musically inclined Rabbi Mark Bloom, who is intricately involved with the preschool — a part of Temple Beth Abraham for 25 years. “He knows every child by name, and joins children in the classroom for Shabbat with guitar in hand,” said director Wendy Siver.
Jewish values certainly influence the classroom of Temple Beth Jacob Preschool in Redwood City, from welcoming guests with a Hebrew greeting to feeding the classroom frog before their own snack time. “It’s not just about Jewish holidays. It’s about making their Jewishness a part of every day,” preschool director Ann Cauterucci says.
Developing Jewish values at an early age is also the goal of the Osher Marin JCC Preschool. “We’re hoping to give them a good start, so the values actually become a part of who they are,” says director Janet Harris.
The Early Childhood Education Program at the JCCSF took second for San Francisco. Gan Mah Tov Preschool at Beth Jacob Congregation and Beth El Nursery School tied for second in the East Bay. And T’enna Preschool at the Albert L. Schultz JCC was second for the South Bay/Peninsula.
Temple Emanu-El Preschool
Temple Beth Abraham
Temple Beth Jacob Preschool
Osher Marin Jewish Community Center Preschool
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
Gan Mah Tov Preschool
Beth Jacob Congregation
Beth El Nursery School
Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center
Best After-School Program
Shmoozing is not just for cocktail parties anymore — Jewish after-school programs are among the new hot spots for social enrichment. Consider, for example, the Havurah Youth Center at the JCC of San Francisco, which won for best after-school program in the city, or Jewish Community Services’ Olam Yeladim, which won for the East Bay.
“We’re loaded here. We have it all,” says program manager Mick Colburn of the Havurah Youth Center, which has parents calling a year in advance to reserve a space for their kids. And, he notes, “we’re not handing spoonfuls of medicine saying, ‘Now it’s Jewish time.’ It’s interwoven into everything we do.”
Olam Yeladim offers its kids special enrichment programs in arts, sports and music absent at many of the local public schools. “At Olam Yeladim, everyone succeeds at their own pace and feels good about themselves,” says its director, Joshua Kramer.
Midrasha in Berkeley took second place for the East Bay.
Havurah Youth Center
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
Jewish Community Services
Midrasha in Berkeley
Best Jewish Day Camp
For some, there’s little in life more exciting than summer camp — the prospect of mosquito bites, sunburns and meeting life-long friends. The best? Readers picked Camp Kochav at the JCC of San Francisco for the city, Camp Kee Tov of Congregation Beth El in the East Bay, Peninsula JCC Camps for the South Bay/Peninsula, and the Osher Marin JCC Summer Camps in Marin/Sonoma.
At Kochav, camp and family programs manager Rebecca Posamentier loves to watch campers set off on a “not-quite-overnight,” a trip with s’mores and songs but no sleeping over. Posamentier believes Jewish camp “helps children to connect to Judaism in ways that are active as opposed to passive — singing songs in Hebrew, learning Israeli dance, making art that is somehow Jewish.”
For the staff of Kee Tov, dressing up as a Rice Krispies box or Gene Simmons is just part of the job. Director Phil Gorman attributes the staff’s imagination and creativity for the camp’s success. “We don’t have a lot of supplies. We work very hard day in and day out creating imaginative programs,” he says.
The Peninsula JCC summer camp boasts a 2-year-old facility that offers plenty of field space, a gymnasium, three pools, art studios and a computer lab. “We have educators on our staff who design our activities — there’s more to our program than doing an arts and crafts project,” notes program director Todd Braman.
The Osher Marin JCC summer camp has the luxury of being located in the hills of Marin. “It gives it a camp feel. We’re just lucky to be in a physical setting that creates an outdoor camp atmosphere,” says youth and family director David Rittberg.
Camp Tzofim came in second for the East Bay.
Camp Kee Tov
Peninsula Jewish Community Center Camps
Osher Marin Jewish Community Center Summer Camps
Best Youth Program
Jewish youth groups have been around for many decades, and today there are more choices than ever. J. readers were unfazed by all the choices, though, and voted Club 18 at the JCC of San Francisco as the best youth program in the city, Midrasha for the East Bay, and USY in the South Bay/Peninsula and Marin/Sonoma.
“We don’t allow adults in the center. They have to stand outside,” notes Darren Schwartz, director of JCCSF’s Club 18. But parents don’t seem to mind, because Club 18 is a place where Jewish teens “can feel at home outside of their home,” Schwartz says.
There are five Midrasha programs in the East Bay, from Fremont to Lafayette. All offer elective classes in subjects as diverse as yoga and medical ethics, as well as Judaic studies classes. “The identity that teens form in their teenage years is usually the identity that will stick with them,” says Diane Bernbaum of Midrasha in Berkeley.
Members of New Frontier, USY’s Northern California chapter, would rather program events for USY than do their homework. “That teens after bar/bat mitzvah want to continue their Jewish education to me is really inspiring,” says regional director Cynthia White, who’s especially proud of USY’s dedication to community service.
NCSY took second for best youth program in the East Bay.
Jewish Community Center of San Francisco
South Bay/Peninsula and Marin/Sonoma
New Frontier USY
Best Jewish Overnight Camp
Unleashing the inner nature lover and fostering a sense of Jewish identity are all in a day’s work for Jewish overnight camps. And j. readers agree — 70-year-old Camp Tawonga, near Yosemite National Park, is their favorite overnight camp in three categories: best arts and crafts, best adventure/backpacking program and best music program.
Deborah Newbrun, executive director of Tawonga, believes its counselors are good role models who make Judaism relevant to the campers. “They’re able to say old Jewish teachings and modernize them to help with current dilemmas that the kids are facing,” she says.
Camp Swig in Saratoga took second for best adventure/backpacking program. Camp Newman in Santa Rosa came in second for best arts and crafts, as well as best music program.
Arts and crafts